Open Phones: Self-Esteem for Girls

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Parents and teachers: How do you empower young girls in your life? What do you say? What do you do? Call and let us know: 212-433-WNYC, 212-433-9692.

Perhaps you've seen the posters in the subway from the New York City Girls campaign, aimed at boosting girls' self-esteem. How do you tackle the issue at home?

Comments [24]

I thought it was extremely interesting how optimistic the callers were. But I think they were naive.

I'm very sensitive to objectification, particularly the objectification of woman and girls. However, telling "girls that they are beautiful the way they are" is the wrong approach. This approach it is doomed to failure much like the campaign to tell kids that "we're all special." The reality is that while "beauty" is subjective, and we can go around saying "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" or "you're beautiful on the inside" what good is this when society does not appreciate your particular beauty? As we know these words will quickly be discounted, and furthermore the messenger will lose integrity, and will never be trusted again.

When you break this approach down what you're really trying to do is either a) lie to your subject, or b) redefine what beauty means in the first place.

If you think about what's actually taking place, people feel unattractive because of a) unattainable expectations of what attractive is, which is largely based on the media, and b) the society around them (which is largely impacted by A).

Telling someone they're beautiful isn't going to have any lasting impact unless their society actually treats them as such.

The reality is, as subject as beauty is, we're not all going to be equally attractive, just like we're not all going to be equally smart, funny, popular, wealthy, strong, tall, happy, etc.

What we really need to do is teach people to have the coping skills to a) try to improve themselves however they can and want, and b) accept themselves with all their flaws.

in addition to stressing coping skills and acceptance we should focus on:
- the realities of media driven images. What models go through to attain their physique is negative and degrading. In addition, how many images are manufactured?
- Spread awareness of the consequences of focusing on body image, even positive focus, which can be the most damaging.

Oct. 17 2013 11:21 AM

@MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Your bullet points are accurate as far as today's statistics go but...

"Plus, girls/women seem naturally to have more and better social networks to begin with than boys/men...."

is far from accurate. Power elites -- at least here in America -- are still largely male and white. Yes, women and minorities can and do pull themselves higher by networking amongst themselves but there's nothing that compares to the boost of a white male mentor.

Self-esteem based on looks alone is wrongheaded. As Hitchcock put it in his interview with Dick Cavett, "All breasts sag eventually."

Oct. 16 2013 01:20 PM
Anonymous from the Upper East Side

Women want to be beautiful BUT men make it a sport/competition...NO? then why do you all want the most attractive? FYI...the women who have "won the genetic lotto" as stated below...have self esteem issues also if not more so.

Oct. 16 2013 12:36 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Some very obvious facts are being glossed over here, most importantly that people are shallow and vain and women in particular want to be beautiful.

No matter what most women say they would rather be Giselle Bundchen who has done literally nothing but win the genetic lotto at birth then become the "best at" any other profession, which is what men strive for. Why? Because women draw their esteem from the judgements of other women and women envy beautiful women the way men envy powerful men.

If this is the case we know that it isn't going to help young women's esteem and therefore (spuriously, I think) their ability to exorcise self control and to have self respect by telling them what they a.) intuitively know is not true owing to their direct and unstinting experience with their female peers opinions b.) offering compensation by way of substituting a masculine achievement based value system which only signifies their utter failure to achieve the esteem of other women.

It would make more sense to actually try and delimit a way for girls to make themselves more beautiful without emphasizing physical appearance the lack thereof is apparently the issue. The qualities listed in the poster like "smart, brave, daring" etc. are just a nonsensical list of ideal traits. What about advocating for self improvement through application of effort as opposed to vacuous self indulgence?

Oct. 16 2013 12:28 PM
adrienne from UWS

Actually I think grooming is important, I think that these posters covertly say that even if you feel beautiful you are not. People do notice beauty and it's not always so terrible, especially if you work on your posture and your attitude towards life. Perhaps a more important issue to me is bullying, that campaign seems much more important to be both for girls and boys

Oct. 16 2013 12:04 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I haven't seen any of these posters and I ride the subway almost every day.

That said, I think helping young people with self-esteem is important, but, honestly, it is important to take care of yourself, also. Don't complain about being bullied for being fat if you're fat and continue to eat pastries instead of salads. Don't complain about being bullied for not looking nice if you don't bathe daily, wash your hair regularly, and wear clean and well-pressed clothing. Despite the fact that we are all people and mostly deserving of respect and self-esteem, we do have a tendency to make our situation worse rather than taking measures to improve ourselves, and that has to be made clear. Self-esteem means self-respect, as well, and if we show ourselves some respect and take care of our minds and bodies, the self-esteem follows.

Of course, that does not give people the right to bully. My mother always said: If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

Oct. 16 2013 12:03 PM
BK from Hoboken

Can we please stop with the self esteem garbage? I am a Gen X aged parent of two girls, but I see the results of the constant self esteem campaigns in self indulged Milllenials every day. I am so tired of everyone wins a medal, you are beautiful the way you are, blah blah blah. Plus these kids are a generation of obese lazy slobs, one third of whom will end up as diabetics. So if you are an overweight, poor eating girl, than you do need make changes. My girls will grow up with a healthy love of activities, sports, healthy eating, and the highs and lows of wins, losses, etc.
Lastly, what about images boys face? I hit the gym, run marathons, but will never ever have a six pack abs as shown in Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs, etc? Neither will most of te other guys in my gym. Where are the complaints about I achievable standards for boys? Enough already.

Oct. 16 2013 12:00 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I have mixed feelings about this. On the 1 hand, I think it shouldn't be about "beauty" (I like mm's suggestion "wonderful). On the other hand, the idea is to counteract the messages girls get that do put it in terms of "beauty," & I understand that it may help to address it in the same terms, & redefine the word. But it still makes me feel uncomfortable that being "beautiful" is treated as something a girl is supposed to be, even has to be.

Oct. 16 2013 11:59 AM
Siahro from Upstate NY

How about we take the emphasis off the importance of being beautiful on girls? For men, it doesn't seem to make a difference whether your beautiful or not. It's a fact of life, not all women are going to be as beautiful as the next, lets get girls thinking of other ways they can gain confidence. Being beautiful should not be the determining factor of whether a women is happy or not.

Oct. 16 2013 11:57 AM
William from Manhattan

If the problem the posters are combating is self confidence based on looks, then it would be privileging orthodoxy over efficacy to avoid mentioning looks.

As the father of a 1 1/2 year old, I appreciate the problem; one need only imagine how silly a poster would look if the exact same poster featured a boy. But you must address problems directly on their terms, not dance around them.

Oct. 16 2013 11:56 AM
Susan from Manhattan

You are focused on only one word in this sentence. The other part "The way I am" is the part you are forgetting.

It takes all of the words to create the statement. Don't take away it's meaning for girls by forgetting the other words.

Oct. 16 2013 11:55 AM
NinaB from NYC

Though you may be bright, creative, curious, industrious, etc..., remember, girls (and boys): physical appearance trumps all other assets and values; the greatest thing you can aspire to be is "hot."

Oct. 16 2013 11:54 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Beauty is what everyone wants, few have, and those who do will eventually lose anyway. Money is the second-best substitute for beauty, but the reason why people want so much money is to buy beauty, as in "trophy wives" or young boy toys.

Oct. 16 2013 11:51 AM
Erica from upper westside

It's a noble cause and I'm kind of touched by the campaign. But it's very misguided. Not one single girl who sees those posters is going to feel better about herself and most are going to feel worse. Why? Because they know it's puffery and therefore just draws attention to their sense of inadequacy. You cannot TELL someone they are smart and beautiful (and in fact, this can cause damage). That feeling has to come from within. And it takes A LOT more subtle stuff than posters. But I do appreciate the effort (sincerely).

Oct. 16 2013 11:51 AM
Kate from Hamilton Heights

GREAT question, Brian. I think it's a good point, but the reality is that physical beauty is the only thing that society really rates women on for their whole lives, so I do think that it makes sense to broaden the idea of what makes one physically beautiful. And, this poster you have displayed ALSO says "I'm funny, playful, daring, strong, curious, smart, brave, friendly, helpful and caring."

I'm a little more bothered by the constant message in modern American culture that "self-esteem" means never having to improve oneself.

Oct. 16 2013 11:49 AM
ivan obregon from nyc

Over-feminist neurosis, Brian.....and a typical feminist misreading of women and yes, girls.

Oct. 16 2013 11:48 AM

Maybe it should be "I'm Perfect(or Wonderful) the way I am."

When I was a snarky teenager, I probably would've thought the posters were stupid because I felt certain I wasn't beautiful and telling me or pretending I was seemed laughable.

Oct. 16 2013 11:48 AM

The reason it is important for girls to feel beautiful is because if a beautiful woman has low self-esteem she will end up becoming a creep magnet. She won't feel deserving of "good" guys and fall into a cycle of relationships with abusive or exploitative men. If the side effect of helping beautiful women not get preyed on is that some ugly chicks end up with an overinflated sense of attractiveness I don't see how that's bad either. A boy with low self-esteem probably won't have a bunch of creepy dudes trying to take advantage of him. Check your male privilege, man.

Oct. 16 2013 11:40 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

To MichaelB: take a look at how girls and women are still portrayed in our culture, and you'll get your answer. From scantilly-clad, "sexy" "Monster High" dolls, to how women and girls are dressed and styled in pop culture (music, TV shows, movies, etc.) the default in our culture is still to make a female "hot" first via dressing her in less or purposely and overtly sexy clothing, with extra makeup and teased out hair. As a 40-something female who still notices this - and even sees it getting worst in mass culture - it is a demeaning and frustrating way to portray us women, especially when you realize that Being sexy has less to do with making yourself look like a show pony, and how good you feel about yourself in general.

While I don't disagree with your claims MichaelB, I think you're missing the point about how girls and women are portrayed in this very specific way, how long it's been going on, and how sick most adult women are of this plastic ideal.

Oct. 16 2013 11:22 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I find this campaign somewhat misguided; I am all for supporting a campaign to get girls to build their self-esteem, but talking about "beauty" at all - in my opinion - is the wrong way to get the message across; no matter what the intent, it puts the focus on a child's appearance, and externals, as opposed to making girls feel good about their skills, talents, intelligence, and who they are as people.

I find it simply weird when friends and siblings go on and on about how "beautiful" their girls are - to the child's faces - whereas they would never do the same to boys, and talk about how "handsome" they are. It could also cause confusion and disappointment later on in a girl's life if a parent artificially builds a girl up as being "beautiful" if they are not physically attractive, and it might also cause a girl to neglect the interests and talents that she has that will make her "attractive" in the general sense, as a human being, because she's engaged in life.

Why not a campaign featuring these same girls with slogans like: "I'm a girl and I climb trees!" or "I'm a girl and I love reading!" or "I'm a girl and I kick butt at math!"

Oct. 16 2013 10:59 AM
suzinne from Bronx

Self esteem for girls (and boys) starts at HOME. Having grown up in a home where females held lesser status, I know this full well. Some people say girls are preferred by teachers. Girls are often better students.

Not sure why this is a continuing topic, because many of the girls I see nowadays have the Princess syndrome. Overly self indulgent, expect to be catered to and pay way too much attention to appearance.

Oct. 16 2013 10:34 AM
Beatrice from Brooklyn

As a woman who had low self-esteem as a girl, I recognize the benefit of the campaign (although I have an issue with the emphasis on "beauty"). However, as the mom of a pre-teen boy with self-esteem issues, I would love to hear experts discuss how to nurture self-compassion and esteem in boys, as well.

Oct. 16 2013 10:26 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Because Feminism. Also, the social service cost impact (think 3 or 4 baby daddy's/domestic abuse/drug addiction/street prostitution/STD's/etc.) of ugly fat chicks with low self esteem is why the welfare state is sinking under the FUPA of its own ballooning social welfare obligations. This is particularly important in a city like NYC where sheltering homeless families is required by law.

Oct. 16 2013 10:04 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Here we go again, girls/women as victims. Boys on the other hand are doing just great:

* Much higher mortality rate due to accident, violence, drugs, and suicide.
* Much higher dropout rate from K-12.
* Lower percentage of the college population and continuing to drop.
* Harder hit by the great recession and an increasing unemployment rate and lower income levels compared to females have been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of decades and projected to continue in the future.

Plus, girls/women seem naturally to have more and better social networks to begin with than boys/men....

So what am I missing here? Why is it that girls have a "special" need for self-esteem over boys' needs??

Oct. 11 2013 11:47 AM

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